WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000, a pandemic low and a sign the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant has yet to lead to widespread layoffs.
Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims dropped from a revised total of 345,000 the week before. And at their current pace, weekly applications for benefits are edging toward their pre-pandemic figure of about 225,000.
But the spread of the delta variant this summer has put renewed pressure on the economy and the job market. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August, in part because of a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism related to concerns about the delta variant.
Still, the ongoing drop in applications for unemployment aid – six declines in the last seven weeks – indicates that most companies are holding onto their workers despite the slowdown. That trend should help sustain the economic rebound through the current wave of infections.
The pace of hiring, though, has weakened. Last week, the government reported that hiring slowed dramatically in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs after having added about a million in both June and July.
Hiring plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retail. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.